Totally Devoted – Extract Two

So carrying on from the first extract I posted yesterday, this is another excerpt from my forthcoming book: Totally Devoted. In this piece I begin to explain how we found ourselves walking in a kind of new monastic path during our time in Wales…

Just as the Celtic saints had done hundreds of years before, we as a movement were living, worshipping, working and, most importantly, praying together. It was in our time at the Llanelli base that I first began to understand the value of a rhythm of life, and while none of us were taking vows, we came to realize that for us, the commitment we felt to those around us in the movement went beyond that of work colleagues…

…The legacy of training and sending Jesus’ disciples for cross-cultural work in countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia was being carried on in the twenty-first century in ways which, although they probably would not have been recognizable to the learned monks and others who trained and sent disciples from the same part of the world 1,500 years before, were nonetheless aimed at achieving the same task.

We came to see it as no coincidence that saints like David, Illtyd and Samson had walked the same coastline as we did…

Extract taken from ‘Totally Devoted, the challenge of new monasticism’ by Simon Cross. Copyright 2010 Authentic Media.  ISBN-13: 978-1850788683  Available Online via Amazon.co.uk or Eden.co.uk.

Totally Devoted – Extract Two

Stand by your beds

We’re due an inspection…

alright, its not an inspection, its a visit, and to be honest its very welcome.

A friend is coming up from Wales to talk about our future plans, we’re coming to a point where we need to take some fairly important decisions about future direction in terms of location, work and so on. Its great to be able to get the input of wise friends who are willing to drive for five hours or so just to discuss options with us.

Perhaps part of the reason I’ve not been blogging a lot recently is that we’re at this kind of pivot point, and trying to work through decisions about where our commitments lie over the next few years. We made a three year commitment to live here in Grimsby, which will be up in just over one year’s time. But because of the kind of things we are getting involved in, we need to begin to take decisions which will affect our situation in the years after that.

So here’s hoping that we’ll have plenty of wisdom in our conversations over the next day or two, and that by this time next week, I’ll be able to begin sharing some of the plans we have been mulling over.

Although, of course, Burns was absolutely right to point out:

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley

So we wont hold them too tightly.

Stand by your beds

Dewi Sant and the lure of the big project

This is an article for any big head like me, about how Saint David and the desert fathers teach us the value of humiliation.

I’ve just got back from a day spent in beautiful south Wales, in the lovely town of Llanelli. I was there visiting the base of World Horizons, the movement of which Kel and I are a part, and who are in many ways another family for us.

Of course when you meet up with people who you havent seen for a few months, one question that often gets asked is along the lines of: ‘so how are things going for you’ or similar. And I found my aggregated reply quite telling – I found myself saying that things were ‘bitty’. By which I mean that I seem to be doing lots of little things, a number of bits and pieces, rather than any one ‘big’ or ‘significant’ project. This troubles me because I find great self worth in being involved in something big, I also find I can lose myself in a project and let it take over my life for a while.

But in considering this on the return journey and again this morning, I realise that in fact a big project is as much a trap as a blessing. The first clue is that I derive so much self worth from bigness. I shouldnt be getting self worth from accomplishment, I shouldnt be looking to acheivements for my self esteem, surely that should come from the secure knowledge of being loved by others, and by God, and by being at peace with myself – not by acheivements.

I am often encouraged by the wisdom of our forerunners, many of whom have been elevated to saint-hood, one of them being that radical vegetarian – Dewi Sant, or Saint David. I dont just like him because he didnt eat meat by the way, although that’s a good start.

Saint David died in about 589 AD, his last recorded words were from a talk he gave in which he instructed his followers: ‘Gwnewch y pethau bychain’ or ‘to do the little things’ they had seen him do. For David the key to living a righteous and good life was not to involve oneself in a uber project, but to continue to do small things with great love.

What this comes down to I think, is humility.

I was struck recently by the link between humility, and humiliation. The latter, I realised can be the process of the forming of humilty. So often we look upon humiliation, the process by which we are brought low, to the ground in fact, as a negative process. For me, at times, to have to admit that in fact right now, as I speak, I have no grand project, no big scheme underway or taking off is a bit humiliating. I am brought low by my own admission. But rather than be downcast by this, the best thing to do is to recognise the importance of being willing to accept my own unimportance, my own insignificance, and to learn to be loved and be at peace in that situation.

Very often I hear preachers or other Christians saying: ‘God’s got big things for you,’ or ‘you are important’. Perhaps instead of trying to base our feelings of self worth in the notion that we are important or have significant tasks to acheive, we should accept that we may only have little things to do, but these little unimportant things are weirdly as important as anything else we can be given.

I think it was the legendary Antony of Egypt (if I’m wrong I apologise) who is credited as saying:

“I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said: ‘What can get through from such snares?’

“Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Humility.’”

So often we get caught up in the need for recongition and acceptance through our acheivements or accomplishments that we lose that elemental need for humility. We need instead to accept that our lives are full of often insignificant, even inconsequential actions. In learning to be at peace with our own unimportance we can become the people we should be.

So yeah, my life at the moment is bitty, yes I will continue to struggle with that, but I also recognise the great personal value that such a life can hold. It will keep me from pride, and from having too high an opinion of my abilities and myself.

In a way I suppose, its a bit like fasting, it requires an element of self control. But sometimes the act or process of fasting itself can be a ‘big project’ in and of itself, so perhaps we need to heed the words of John Cassian who taught that control over the stomach, which in many ways is the very physical counterpart of the soul, is less to do with fasting and more to do with simple self control:

“A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied.”

Maybe this needs to be applied not just to food, but to everything we involve ourselves in.

Dewi Sant and the lure of the big project

back from Wales

Sorry not to have been very communicative over the last few days, we were in Wales.  We scooted down there for a mini-holiday (half term), and to allow Kel to prepare her trip to India, for which she set off on Sunday.

We didnt really get much holidaying in, apart from anything else I had to spend a day getting her visa from the clutches of the processing centre who thought it would be fun to hold on to it until the very last moment possible!

But it was nice to see a few friends again, and we had a cool flat to stay in which was great.

Expect the usual inane drivel to recommence… in fact it already has!

back from Wales

we moved

One van – packed until it was ready to pop;

One car – full to the roof;

One boot load of stuff – coming up with a friend next weekend;

Half a boot load of stuff in our friend’s shed;

A plant and a vacuum cleaner waiting collection in our old garage;

And that is that.

Llanelli is 298.46 miles behind us – the future is unwritten.

We’ve not got a house, we’re camping out in the in(out)laws’ spare room.

It’s kind of exciting to wonder where we will be at Christmas time, kind of stressful too.

Today we looked at a house, it needs a lot of work doing, and a lot of money to buy it – well a lot of money to us anyhow – I wonder if that’s where we’ll end up… Or maybe its somewhere we havent seen yet.  Yikes!

Thanks so much everyone who helped us, I wish I had taken photos of the crew, truth was I was too busy worrying about what would happen when the van got full!  Anyway, Paul’s shoulders would have filled the whole picture, and Michael and his immaculate ‘tash hopped it too early.

So there we are, thanks everyone!  See you in September!

we moved

moving house next week

Up to my eyes in boxes at the moment, boxes of books mainly – which says something I suppose.  We are due to leave here next weekend (16th), and as yet we dont have a house to go to, so the fall back plan is to move in with the in-laws (out-laws) while we concentrate on finding a new place.  I say we… Kelly will be in North Africa for a good part of September, and then after she gets back, she’ll be preparing for a trip to India not long after, somewhere in between those two, I’m supposed to be going to a conference in Portugal.

Yikes…

One of the finds, as I packed boxes this evening, was my old contacts book.  When I was working the hard news beat, my contacts book was my constant companion, and it contains addresses and mobile phone numbers of high profile authors, actors, musicians, celebs, business people, policemen, lawyers, even a spy!  I’m sure most of them are out of date now, but it was a real blast from the past to flick through it – what a totally different world I lived in then!

When we move most of our stuff will have to go into storage as we search for another house, until very recently I was convinved we would have to rent somewhere, but then I realised that rents are as high if not higher in some cases, than paying a mortgage, so I thought, well, perhaps we should buy somewhere then… singularly failing to take into account the fact that our ridiculous income would mean we couldnt get a mortgage, and would struggle to convince a landlord to rent to us!!

However, change seems to be afoot, more news on that before long I hope.  Among other things, I am inspired by the availability of shared ownership schemes that are knocking around.  I think they would require a higher income than we have at present, but I’m working on that one, and there may be light at the end of that particlar tunnel.

So we may yet become home owners, which will conflict somewhat with my ‘property as theft’ mentality – but then so does the notion of owning my own underpants, so there you go.

We’ve had a few wobbles about moving this month, it felt a bit too uncertain, and we almost called it off, but the boxes are filling up, the van is booked, and in a fortnights time, we’ll be gone.  Yikes again!

moving house next week